Are You Ready for Some Pi (Pie)?

By 1st grade teacher Bev “Greenie” Greenberg
Recently, US Math teacher Robert Wilson and I met to discuss a possible connection between our students to learn about and celebrate Pi Day. Mr. Wilson and I are committed to creating opportunities (Parker’s philosophy) for students to develop their knowledge of math concepts through hands-on experiences in various ways and with multiple ages.

So, on Thursday, March 14, 1st graders went to Mr. Wilson’s room to learn about Pi (Pie), the homophone that needed a little explanation, so the younger children were in the right frame of mind. As the 1st graders entered the math room, they were greeted with a colorful array of tongue depressor sticks and lines of string connecting these objects in columns. 

Mr. Wilson showed two circles of different sizes and shared how to measure these circles, first by wrapping the string around the circumference and then running another string across the diameter. He challenged the 1st graders to decide how many pieces of shorter string (diameter measurement) it would take to match the circumference string. He next talked about the little bit extra left over, saying that it is like the number after a point you see when purchasing something. So, $3.14 is three dollars and a bit of change, which is another way of describing what 3.14 means in math—a whole amount and a little extra. 

After sharing this concept on the board, he focused on the grid on the floor, asking 1st graders to count how many sticks were across the top and bottom of the shape. Then he challenged them by asking if they thought there was equal distance between the sticks. Finally, with the help of his US Advanced Topics in Math seniors Davu Hemphill-Smith, Massimo Franco and Kumiko Muro, he gave a set of sticks to each 1st grader to count out and verify that they each had only 10. He reminded the students that mathematicians check and double-check whatever they do for accuracy, and as the 1st graders counted their sticks, one child found she had only nine sticks, which was quickly adjusted. 

Next came the tossing of the sticks, then counting only the sticks that touched or crossed a line. While these steps were a bit beyond the 1st graders’ understanding, Mr. Wilson showed proof of how numbers using addition and division create Pi (π is defined as the ratio of a circle's circumference C to its diameter D. That is, π=C/D. Equivalently, π may also be defined as the ratio of a circle's hemi circumference H=C/2 to its radius r=D/2. That is, π=C/D=H/r). After this, I think the 1st graders were ready for pie

While there is never enough time for connections, what happened on Pi Day did influence the 1st graders, as one of them innocently looked at our daily calendar at the end of the school day and said, “Look, we learned about Pi, and today IS PI (3-14).”

Lessons that mirror the work done in LS in math with the guidance of Math Specialist Denise David resounded in the minds of the 1st graders as familiar information, and the experiences we were lucky to have with Mr. Wilson underscore how foundational math skills build as students go through the grades. 

While unable to relay the emotional excitement and joy of learning in words (you had to be there), the experience spoke volumes about Parker as a JK–12 institution. Connections across the grades are a significant gift to all blessed to attend and work at this school. 

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Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.